The Ace Side of #MeToo
Note: content warning for the discussion of sexual harassment and assault. There are no violent or graphic descriptions of anyone's experience below; this article was purposefully written this way to discuss the topic of sexual harassment and assault and still be accessible to other asexual and aromantic survivors.
Recently, you may have seen a wide array of posts and tweets on Facebook and Twitter from friends and others bearing the hashtag #MeToo. The vast majority of them have been women: the hashtag was created by a black woman and activist Tarana Burke ten years ago to generate a conversation about how women – particularly women of color – are affected by sexual harassment and sexual assault. Further, this has generated conversation about how existing resources – much like those provided by Planned Parenthood – are all the more necessary and important to fight for given the current political climate in the United States under Donald Trump. People of all genders have joined this empowering moment, creating a more complicated and intersectional picture of the oppression permeating a system that lacks justice, liberation, and oftentimes the belief and support of our own friends and loved ones. Gender, race, disability, socioeconomic status, and sexual and romantic orientations – among other markers of identity based on background, circumstance, and experiences – all come together to simultaneously clarify and obscure this picture.
I wrote this not as a solution to a problem or as a blueprint for survivor-inclusive ace activism and advocacy, but rather as a series of thoughts meant to create a dialogue. In the task of creating asexual-specific spaces both online and offline which center a mindset that there are people who do not experience sexual attraction and may not enjoy or desire sex, it is also incredibly important to create spaces of healing for aces who have experienced sexual violence. In a society that privileges sex as well as shuns those who are incapable of engaging in or desiring it, we perpetuate a form of rape culture that coerces people to engage in activities in which they have no interest in participating. While there may one day come a time where I post a piece in a more appropriate outlet detailing the circumstance of my assault, I wanted to write this piece to illuminate the perspective of identifying both as a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence and as a demisexual. Through events and conversations, essays and community dialogues, I have often used my story to demonstrate how people on the asexual spectrum have their own complications to face regarding sexual harassment and assault.
When asexual people come out to others in conversation, they will often be asked if they have been assaulted in the past, particularly when they were younger. It was one of the most frequent questions I received when I first came out as asexual at 14. I said "no, I had not." While this was not true, I owed nobody my story. At this point in my life I did not know how to talk about it, and it would still be years before I would tell someone about it for the first time. But I also feared that if I had said yes, it might have acted either as an explanation or as an excuse from a more collective perception of normality: i.e. that it would "make sense" that I had no sexual attraction to others. I did not want it to seem that my lack of attraction at the time was causal, that my coming out as ace was a direct effect of my sexual assault. I did not want it to seem that I was broken, unloveable, or that I somehow "grew incorrectly" and was therefore incapable of a relationship.
While I also identified as aromantic at this time and had no interest in either sex or a romantic relationship, I wanted my identity to be and come across as valid and genuine. Other ace people that I knew – mostly online – sought to defy the stereotype, that they could be ace and not have this experience. Although I never believed that I came off to other aces as perpetuating a stereotype, stigma-fighting within this community that was not inclusive to survivors made talking about the two identities coexisting very difficult.
A couple years later when I would come out as a homoromantic demisexual (still years before I came out as agender or as being a survivor), traversing queer spaces was another difficulty. After what felt like was trial and error, I would not tell strangers that I was demisexual, even if I knew they were queer. Explaining it would not only make them feel that I was making things too complicated or that I wanted to be "special", but once they would learn that my identity was on the asexual spectrum, the same questions prying at my traumas would return. Similar microaggressive inferences that being assaulted and demisexual made sense would arise, others arguing that it was explainable that I would prefer to take the time to let someone in before sexual attraction would be possible made sense because I was assaulted.
My story differs from other stories of survivors in my community. While there are moments that I am interested in sex or will have sex (as I am demisexual), there are other ace survivors whose social experiences and possibly traumas are more complicated due to being sex-repulsed. While overcoming my trauma could mean remembering that non-abusive romantic and/or sexual love is still possible, it will mean different things to each of us. I have no doubt that there could one day be a more accessible network or space for us to gather, find resources, and potentially even share if/when we are comfortable, willing, and feel safe doing so.
Lack of resources and lack of an accessible community of others on the asexual spectrum has only served to exacerbate this oppression. We owe nobody our stories or our reasons. But due to the smallness of our community, that will mean we need allies to step up and implore the difference of experience. We will need allosexual and alloromantic people to believe and understand us, and we will need other asexual and aromantic spectrum people who are not survivors to make spaces more inclusive. While I have made it the point of the past few years to bring it up and to further complicate and expand the conversation of sexual assault so that it may be more accessible to others, it is exhausting to do it alone.
While I do not yet know how to create a solution for this, I know that I am tired and overworked. Being the only asexual in so many spaces throughout my life and having to explain myself over and over again makes me tired. Making resources for ace people in queer spaces and dedicating so much of myself to making queer spaces more ace inclusive makes me tired. Building a community at my own university by myself with little to no support makes me tired. Explaining my story of sexual assault and all of the intricacies of carrying my experience as a demisexual person makes me tired.
But throughout this past couple of weeks, I am reminded that I cannot help but keep going: I keep working because as both a survivor and as someone on the asexual spectrum, #MeToo reminds me that I am not alone.